Get to know the SF Reader

Updates

I recently saw a bunch of people doing this tag and it looked like a lot of fun. I’m also in a bit of a reviewing funk at the mo, which is annoying given I have a few more books I’d like to talk about for SciFi Month, but this was a nice way to sit down and write about some cool SF stories without having to engage my reviewing brain.



What is the first science fiction you read?
Haha the notoriously difficult question with the standard ‘I’ve been reading it for so long I can’t remember’ cop out answer. Though if I go back far enough I was consuming sci-fi books before I could fully even read myself. I had this one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book I’d make my mam read to me every single night before bed. I was a TMNT nut; had the bed sheets, the lampshade, the toy figures (Donatello was always my fave) and of course that one book that started it all.

What SF book have you read this year that you want more people to read?
There are very few books I preorder and then actually read on the day they release, but I did exactly that for Gareth L. Powell’s Light of Impossible Stars when it came out in February. I don’t actually recommend diving straight into this specific book, cos it’s the final book in a trilogy, but I really think more people should read his Embers of War series. It’s space opera with some of the best character work I’ve seen in the genre and tells the story of a misfit bunch of galactic spacefarers coming to terms with the fallout of a genocidal interstellar war.

Sal Konstanz, the determined but self-doubting captain of a galactic rescue team; her sentient ship Trouble Dog, a decommissioned battleship-turned-rescue-vessel seeking redemption for her role in the war; Ona Sudak, a poet who finds herself at the centre of an interstellar manhunt; Ashton Childe, a cynical government agent disillusioned with the realities of life as a spook; and a cast of memorable side characters who feel no less fleshed-out for not being the main focus.

What is your favourite sci-fi subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?
Coming as no surprise to anyone following my blog this SciFi month, cyberpunk is one of my favourite subgenres. Though I’ve been coming to terms a bit with the fact I’m in love with the idea of cyberpunk much more than actually existing cyberpunk, which I sometimes think falls short of what it could be. Sometimes I think that might just be because I read Neuromancer and nothing ever quite lived up to it since.

I also love me some tech noir and I read a really great book by Ren Warom at the start of this year called Coil. A gritty, futuristic murder mystery spattered with copious amounts of biopunk body horror, Coil isn’t a book for the squeamish, but if you like stories with gritty characters and settings featuring criminal gangs warring with corrupt and bureaucratic law enforcement agencies then BOY do I have a recommendation for you!

As for a subgenre I’m not well-acquainted with, I haven’t read much hard sci-fi. I kind of assumed I wouldn’t find it very interesting, cos I’m much more interested in characters and social systems than I am in knowing exactly how an FTL warp drive works. There’s a very good chance I’ve misunderstood the genre though, cos I loved Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and that went to town on a lot of the science while still telling a very compelling story. Which reminds me, I never did carry on with that series…

New weird is something I’d love to get more into as well. I have a few China Miéville and Jeff VanderMeer books on my Kindle that I really should make time for. I’ve got Perdido Street Station and Annihilation on there for sure, possibly a few more. Really weirdly, I actually knew China Miéville for a while in my late teens/early twenties, when we were both members of the same socialist political party. Despite being a sci-fi geek I’d never heard of him as an author at that point in my life and was kind of flabbergasted when I discovered he was this super well-known science fiction writer.



Who is one of your auto-buy sci-fi authors?
Tade Thompson for sure. His Rosewater books were some of the best sci-fi I’ve read in ages. Really ground breaking stuff that wove together an eclectic mix of biopunk noir spy thriller, alien invasion, murder mystery and zombie horror quite masterfully.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it centres on the settlement of Rosewater, a Nigerian city that’s grown up around the edges of an alien biodome that periodically emits a mysterious healing energy. Consequently, it’s developed into a gritty hybrid of Mecca and Lourdes, a beacon for the sick, a ramshackle, unplanned society with a teeming criminal underworld and a hive of activity for secretive organisations that want to control it. We see the story through the eyes of Kaaro, a powerful ‘sensitive’ with a rare ability to access the xenosphere, a pseudo-psychic realm seeded by alien biotech where sensitives can access and manipulate the thoughts and perceptions of others. He works for S45, a secretive government agency involved in telepathic interrogation and counter-terrorism, and through them becomes compelled to investigate why his fellow sensitives have been mysteriously dying off…

How do you typically find SF recommendations?
Since I discovered blogging and book twitter, most of my recs come from the fantastic group of bookworms I follow and chat to online. Some of the outstanding recommendations I’m still looking forward to reading include Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade, Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang and War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, all books that have been recommended to me by my wonderful bookish pals.



What is an upcoming sci-fi release you’re excited for?
Persephone Motherfucking Station!!! (The profanity isn’t part of the actual book title). I’ve actually never read anything by Stina Leicht, but her upcoming science fiction novels sounds like everything I love (it’s marketed as The Mandalorian meets Cowboy Bebop for crying out loud!). It tells the story of a seemingly backwater planet that’s largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds, but becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation, which thinks the planet has a few secrets the corporation could tenaciously exploit.

Our first main character is Rosie, owner of Monk’s Bar in the corporate town of West Brynner, which caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists. Exactly two types of people drink at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who seek to employ them. Then we’ve got Angel, an ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honourable thing, who is employed to carry out a job for Rosie that will have lasting consequences for Persephone Station and put Angel and her squad up against the might of the Serrao-Orlov corporation. I can’t wait for this book!

If someone had never read sci-fi before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
This requires a lil bit of thought, cos I wouldn’t want to recommend the first three books that come to mind, as every reader’s needs are different and some really fantastic books aren’t necessarily great entry points. I think Consider Phlebas by Ian M. Banks would be a great one. It’s got that adventurous space opera vibe that something as mainstream as Star Wars has, while introducing some more solidly sci-fi concepts in there. Then perhaps something like Gideon The Ninth for those who like their sci-fi with a side of bat shit chaos and finally something a bit quieter and less rollicking by someone like Becky Chambers, perhaps To Be Taught, If Fortunate. These are just a cross-section of some books that I think showcase the diversity of science fiction though and I’d def tailor any concrete recommendations to the person in question.

Who is a sci-fi reading content creator you came across recently that you’d like to shout out?
She’s not exclusively a science fiction gal, but I’m currently watching my way through all of Justine’s BookTube videos on her channel I Should Read That. I find her videos so soothing and often queue up a bunch of them after a long day at work to wind down. In the most recent videos I’ve watched she’s been talking up Adrian Tchaikovsky a bunch, specifically Children Of Time, which I’m also very excited to read now, even if I do hate spiders! Go check Justine out, she’s awesome.



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Author Interview: Corey J. White

Interviews

Hi Corey, thanks so much for doing the interview! I’ve just finished your newest book, Repo Virtual, and absolutely loved it. How have you found the experience of releasing a book this year?

It’s been tough, to be honest. When you spend so much time planning, researching, writing and editing a book, you really hope that it’s going to find its audience – and that can be tough even at the best of times. Obviously 2020 has not been the best of times. The book has still managed to pick up some good reviews, and I’ve had some great responses from readers, but it’s impossible to know how much better things might have gone under different circumstances.

Still, I have my health, and I haven’t lost anyone to COVID-19, so if having a new release book lost in the churn of 2020 is the worst thing that happens to me this year, I’m still luckier than a lot of other people.

I’m celebrating all things cyberpunk this month at Parsecs & Parchment, so could you maybe give us your take on what cyberpunk is, the themes it explores and why you wanted to write a cyberpunk story?

So, a nice easy question, huh?

This is a tough one because what cyberpunk is has changed a lot across the decades. At first I think it was pure future shock and bleeding edge speculation about a fast-approaching digital status quo, but I see it also as a response to neoliberal economic policy – the notion that the state should take a step back and let private companies run things; to leave society and the lives of everyone living in it to the whims of the market.

It’s hard to tell if cyberpunk is to blame for providing such a flashy neon-hued road map to lead us to where we are today, or if it’s our fault for not properly heeding its warnings, but it’s obvious to me that we’re living in a very mundane sort of cyberpunk dystopia (though unevenly distributed, of course). Despite that, so much of the modern cyberpunk you see in films, video games, online art, etc, has been reduced to a pure aesthetic divorced from current issues.

So right from the start, my plan with Repo Virtual was to write a book that could be seen as a continuation of the cyberpunk canon, and which would also recontextualise everything people love about the genre with what’s happening right now technologically, politically, and culturally. I don’t know if I pulled it off, but hopefully I came close.

How would you pitch Repo Virtual to potential readers?

It’s the story of a repoman/thief, his delinquent hacker friend and spiritually adrift sibling, getting deep in the shit after they unknowingly steal the world’s first strong AI. But if heists, shoot-outs, car chases, and reckless arson aren’t enough for you, it’s also a story about the personhood of non-biological intelligences, and our responsibilities to any AI children we might one day create.

It’s about family, found family, love and its struggles, guilt, climate change, and corporate control.

It was great to see a Black, gay protagonist in J.D., the main character of the book. Centering people who aren’t straight white guys isn’t something cyberpunk (or genre fiction in general) has done well in the past. Was this something you consciously wanted to rectify?

I don’t know that it was conscious, it’s more that I’ve read enough science fiction over the years to have become kind of sick of the straight white male default that has plagued the genre for decades. It’s not just sci-fi, and it’s not even just books – all across culture the white male protagonist is everywhere. This means that when I’m sitting down to write a story, the idea of putting yet another straight white guy front and centre feels incredibly boring. So at this point I think it’s entirely subconscious.

But more generally, I’m really excited with the direction of science-fiction and fantasy right now, and the diverse voices that are finally getting better recognised (they’ve always been here, as much as certain editors, writers, and readers would have liked to pretend otherwise). I think my publisher (Tor.com Publishing) is really at the forefront of this movement in terms of long-form genre publishing, but there are also a number of genre fiction magazines doing really great work too – FIYAH Magazine and Anathema being just two examples that come immediately to mind.

Personally I think Repo Virtual would make a great SciFi action film, there are quite a few adrenaline-fueled moments! If it ever got adapted for a movie who would you like to see bring your characters to life on the big screen?

The name at the top of my list would be Bong Joon-ho (SnowpiercerParasiteOkjaMemories of Murder, etc). I consider him an anti-capitalist comrade, he does brilliant work in and out of sci-fi, he does great action and great comedy, and I think a Repo Virtual film could really benefit from having a Korean director bring Neo Songdo to life.

Speaking of action scenes, you do a great job of having your action scenes propel the book forward by advancing the plot or developing aspects of character. How do you make sure your action scenes are adding something to the story when drafting your books?

I think the easiest ‘trick’ is to try and make sure that your action scenes are always doing at least two things. There’ll be the action itself – what’s happening, who’s shooting who – but there also needs to be a second layer beneath that, something that grounds it to the characters as people. Maybe the person doing the shooting is struggling with guilt related to their past acts of violence. Maybe the two characters trying to outrun the police are having a talk about their relationship, something like that.

If you read enough (and write enough) you’ll start to get a feel for it. Maybe you won’t realise right away why the action feels disconnected from the story, but you’ll know that the scene isn’t landing and with any luck, eventually you’ll figure out why.

One of my favourite bits from Repo Virtual never even made it to the third draft. I loved the action that was taking place, but when I took a step back the scene didn’t add anything to the story. Sometimes when that happens, you just need to hit delete and keep moving forward.

Another thing that’s important with action pacing – that again you’ll get a better instinct for the more you read and write – is to remember that you need to let your characters (and your readers) breathe. Sometimes they need to just sit down and eat and talk, or they need to hide out and lick their wounds. Those quiet moments will help the action stand out better than if it was going non-stop.

Do you have any favourite cyberpunk books and recommendations for people looking to explore the genre?

Neuromancer might be considered the primary cyberpunk text, but I think the best introduction to the early days of cyberpunk is William Gibson’s Burning Chrome collection of short stories.

Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon could be considered a very literary take on cyberpunk – the framing narrative could be straight out of Black Mirror, but it’s the stories embedded within it that make the book something really special. Each of the stories is beautifully rendered with a totally unique voice.

Malka Older’s Infomocracy is a perfect cyberpunk book for the present politics-obsessed moment in time (though if that sounds too dry, there’s also plenty of espionage and intrigue too).

And Steve Aylett’s Beerlight books are hilarious and weird, and still filled with great SFnal concepts. Read Slaughtermatic and go on from there if it tickles your fancy.

You’ve also got another science fiction series out called The Voidwitch Saga. What’s this series about for readers who want to check out your back catalogue?

The Voidwitch Saga of novellas (Killing GravityVoid Black Shadow, and Static Ruin) follows Mars Xi, an experimental telekinetic supersoldier who’s spent her whole life on the run from the people who created her. When these forces finally catch up to her, she’s forced to reckon with her past, her creation, and all the violence she’s enacted in the name of her freedom. And there is a lot of violence.

It’s ultra-violent, but also heart-felt, oddly personal, and still somewhat political.


The Voidwitch Saga by Corey J. White

Lastly, what can readers expect from you in the future? Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire at the moment. Still waiting on beta reader feedback on the latest novel manuscript, which is cli-fi body-horror about our guilt and responsibilities in the face of anthropocentric climate change and mass extinction. I’ve got ideas for a sequel too, but still need to wait and see how the next draft comes together.

I’m also working on a collaborative space horror novella, and I’m slowly putting aside ideas for a Repo Virtual follow-up. Not a direct sequel, because I’ve told the story of this particular group of characters, but something in the same world, looking at more/different parts of our dystopian now through that cyberpunk lens.

Sounds awesome, I’m looking forward to it! Thanks so much for your time Corey.

No, thank you! I really appreciate it.


You can see more from Corey on his website coreyjwhite.com, where you can also sign up to the Nothing Here Newsletter. Repo Virtual and the Voidwitch Saga novellas are out now from Tor.com. If you enjoyed this post why not follow the blog for more interviews, reviews and bookish chat?

Review: REPO VIRTUAL by Corey J. White

Book Reviews

I’ve been impressed by the new cyberpunk I’ve been reading lately. I didn’t know if modern authors would have moved on from the retro-futurist vibes of their older counterparts, or whether they’d have anything worthwhile to say about 21st century capitalism. Honestly it’s about time cyberpunk moved on and had something worth saying again and REPO VIRTUAL does both of these things, and does them pretty darn well.

The opening chapter introduces Julius Dax, aka J.D., a young robotics repairman by day and, by night, an online ‘repoman’ in an online game called VOIDWAR, a kind of all-consuming futuristic version of EVE Online jacked up on crack. J.D. is doing what he can to get by in his shitty, unfulfilling day job and earn a buck or two in the augmented-reality city state of Neo Songdo, when he gets a call from his sibling offering him a job: steal a powerful piece of software from the reclusive tech billionaire whose company, Zero Corporation, effectively rules the territory of Neo Songdo. Turns out the software isn’t any old data cube though, and J.D. soon finds himself on the run, both from Zero Corporation when they blackmail an ex-covert ops spy out of retirement to hunt him down, and from the transhumanist tech-cult who hired him after he reneges on their deal.

Unlike a lot of older cyberpunk, with its grizzled, neo-noir loner protagonists, J.D. is a genuinely likable main character. He has a family he cares deeply about and a rocky on-and-off relationship with a guy you can tell makes him happy, despite their different outlook on how to live life in a world where rampant capitalism has all but crushed the spirit of the everyday inhabitants of Neo Songdo. This was a refreshing take and even though I love those grizzled neo-noir loner protagonists, I really enjoyed the focus on loving character relationships in Repo Virtual. It shows how cyberpunk is actually evolving. What was great about, say, Case and Molly’s relationship in Neuromancer was they clearly had an attachment to each other that went beyond just physical, but they were so alienated from the world and from each other that ultimately it could never work; I liked that and thought it made a powerful statement about how capitalism ultimately alienates us from our fellow humans. Corey J. White is saying something different, that despite that alienation we are still human and woe betide any CEO whose profits supersede our humanity.

This book also has fantastic, adrenaline-pumping action sequences. From arson-assisted burglaries and apartment shoot-outs to car chases through flooded city streets it stays true to enough of that heisty good stuff cyberpunk does so well, while still feeling very updated. One of the chase sequences also features enhanced and fully-functional versions of those terrifying Boston Dynamics dogs which, surprise surprise in a corporate dystopia, have been sold to the police department (but also get hacked and repurposed by computer nerds, which is also just so cyberpunk I love it).

If this book is anything to go by, I feel like the tone of modern cyberpunk may be shifting too? It’s not a coincidence that cyberpunk originally flourished in the age of Reaganomics, the Washington Consensus and the ascendance of neoliberal capitalism as an uncontested power on the world stage. It’s no wonder that in that context the genre was incredibly pessimistic about the potential for effective opposition to that power, but I hope I’m not misplaced in glimpsing a tiny shred, if but a kernel, of hope in the modern genre. Hope is probably the wrong word, perhaps resistance would be more fitting. And I think that development would be also be fitting for our own age, when resistance does seem possible, even if against overwhelming odds sometimes.

The fact that J.D is a Black gay protagonist is also something rarely seen in cyberpunk, which has a reputation for being a bit of a white dudebro kind of genre, sometimes unfairly perhaps, but definitely not without reason. The fact that there are lesbian characters, a trans police officer and J.D’s sibling Soo-hyun is non-binary, all gives me hope that cyberpunk might finally be starting to reach its own potential. For a genre awash with such advanced biotechnology it really shouldn’t have taken this long for it to start exploring ideas around gender identity. Thankfully Corey J. White has dragged cyberpunk kicking and screaming into the year 2020 and with it he’s also consigned a bunch of the shittier stereotypes of the genre to the dustbin of history. In fact, that dustbin is steadily overflowing with the garbage of the past as Corey cheerily throws more scrunched up paper balls of outdated shit over his shoulder. It was delightful to read.



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Review: BUSTED SYNAPSES by Erica L. Satifka

Book Reviews

The last review I wrote was for William Gibson’s Neuromancer, one of the earliest trailblazers of cyberpunk literature. Well, BUSTED SYNAPSES is the newest addition to the canon and I can confidently say this book gives me so much hope for the future of the genre. Where most cyberpunk takes place in massive conurbations of built-up urban sprawl, with towering skyscrapers bathing the city streets in their neon glow, Erica L. Satifka has imagined a near future where the cities have become the sole domain of the 1%. And so Busted Synapses tells the story of Jess and Dale, two working class friends struggling to make ends meet in the small town of Wheeling, rural West Virginia, who become entangled in a corporate conspiracy after they meet a runaway android that decides to whistleblow on the horrors committed by the powerful Solfind Corporation.

What I loved about this story was its focus on the everyday struggles working class people face. Don’t get me wrong, I love old school, adrenaline-pumping cyberpunk action about down-and-out computer hackers and underworld crime rings, but they aren’t always all that relatable, ya know. In Jess and Dale though, we have two main characters you can really understand. They work precarious jobs always under immanent threat of automation, with precious few labour rights and constantly weighed on by the stress of paying off student debt and the prohibitive cost of health insurance. Dale makes a few extra coins by taking part in a virtual reality battle royale simulation, which is ostensibly a kind of recreational video game, but in reality exists for the entertainment of the rich minority and feels very much like a new kind of futuristic gig economy platform job you can take up if you’re struggling to pay the rent.

It also addresses the problem of imminent climate catastrophe, which is gonna be difficult for any modern cyberpunk author to ignore going forward. In the book most of the coastal cities on the Eastern Seaboard have been destroyed by freak storms that killed most of population and displaced the rest, leading the gutted remnants of an overwhelmed neo-liberal government to hand over rescue and reconstruction efforts to Solfind. Honestly this felt very contemporary and very possible. The idea that developed nations will be the last to experience the consequences of climate change has most definitely been put to rest now, after the horrific wildfires we saw recently in Australia and California. And just as in the book, we don’t have to look very far to see how corporations profit from disaster; the ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq was largely contracted out to private companies after we bombed it into the ground and here in the UK private companies with no experience of producing medical equipment have been awarded multi-million pound contracts to produce PPE by exploiting corrupt links with government ministers. This is where modern cyberpunk really has the opportunity to grow, by shining a light on the way capitalist economies already function and showing how things might end up if corporate power continues unchecked, and Erica Satifka does this very well.

I do wish the book had been longer though. There were parts of the plot that felt like they unfolded too quickly and some character relationships that I’d like to have seen developed more, which could have made the story hit harder and could have been resolved by having a longer word count. Truth be told though, deep character studies aren’t usually what I’m after when I read cyberpunk, so this wasn’t much of an issue for me, just something to be aware of for those of you who enjoy deep character dives.

Early cyberpunk had inherent criticisms of the corporate dystopias it portrayed (despite the pessimism that any form of collective struggle could overcome them) but as the genre developed it definitely stagnated, becoming more focussed on aesthetics than it was about critiquing the end point of late stage monopoly capitalism. Busted Synapses is the shot in the arm the genre needs. It has that gritty techno-pessimism that’s at the heart of cyberpunk, and it doesn’t offer a rosy picture of the future or indeed offer any solutions, but it has done what modern cyberpunk needs to do in order to have a future, and that’s start critiquing the corporatism of our own society which, in many ways, is manifesting the very dystopia the progenitors of the genre warned us about decades ago. Busted Synapses does that and it makes me very excited that writers like Erica L. Satifka are pulling cyberpunk out of the stagnant ditch it got stuck in for too long. Solidly recommend this book.



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Review: NEUROMANCER by William Gibson

Book Reviews

NEUROMANCER. Probably not the first cyberpunk novel (if it’s even possible to identify such a thing) but arguably the one that had the most influence on the development of the genre and, from a personal perspective, the first one I ever read. There’s so much juicy cyberpunk goodness to dig into here, from cyberspace-faring console cowboys to nihilistic terrorist subcultures, from vat-grown Yakuza assassins to rogue artificial intelligences taking on the ever vigilant Turing Police, this book is pure cyberpunk.

It’s the story of a down-on-his-luck hacker called Case, once the best data-thief in the business who made the mistake of trying to steal from his employer. Now neurologically crippled by his vengeful former boss, he’s no longer capable of jacking in to ‘the matrix’. That is until he’s offered a cutting edge cure by a new, enigmatic employer in return for taking on one last heist. Working alongside a ‘razorgirl’ street samurai and the reconstructed consciousness of his dead mentor, Case must unravel the puzzle of his mysterious employer while pulling off the most daring job of his life.

I love this book. I’ve read it several times now and every time that opening chapter hooks me right in. Straight away we’re drawn into the seedy underbelly of Night City in all its infamy and ill-repute. The dive bars frequented by drug dealers and pimps, the street vendors hawking illegal software and black market weapons beneath the counter, the hustlers and the smugglers and the black market clinics dealing in experimental biotechnology and gene-editing techniques. Gibson sums up the dystopia of his setting and the complete domination of multinational corporations in this world of monopoly capitalism in this opening chapter when he describes Night City as ‘a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast forward button’. That description highlights the lack of control the powerless underclass of the book have to affect any change in the world around them and is really what Case is rebelling against throughout the story.

The weird thing about Neuromancer for me is that it isn’t hyper focussed on character, which is usually a big deal for me. And by that I don’t mean the characters aren’t interesting, they’re very interesting people, I mean this is less a story about diving deep into the inner workings and relationships between individual characters than it is about people fighting systems of power in whatever limited ways they’re able. I realise those things aren’t mutually exclusive, and maybe it could have been a better book if there was more focus on character, but for me it didn’t matter. The star of this show is the setting and the way people interact with technology, and that’s coming from someone who usually thinks character is paramount.

One thing I will say though is don’t necessarily expect to feel comfortable immediately because Gibson does not over-explain anything. You get dropped into this familiar-yet-jarring world and you’re expected to roll with it and do your best to keep up. It’s actually one of the things I love about this book, that the world has its own vernacular that can be quite rattling and unsettling to start with, but which does become second nature after a while. I think its a very clever narrative technique where the fragmented dialogue and disjointed jumps from scene to scene mirror the kind of uncontrolled disintegration of the hyper-globalised, postmodern setting. I’d liken the sensation of reading Neuromancer to somehow being able to watch unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay in real time at an alarming rate.

If you’re new to cyberpunk this is honestly a fantastic place to start and somewhere you quickly become acquainted with all the hallmark trappings of the genre. A fantastic book that changed the direction of science fiction for a generation.



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What Is Cyberpunk?

Updates

Ok, so given I’m gonna be exclusively talking about cyberpunk on the blog during SciFi Month, it’s probably a good idea to talk a bit about what it is. Subgenres are fickle, amorphous things so don’t take this as a comprehensive overview. I’m sure there’ll be many things I leave out and probably some stuff others might disagree with, but this is my take on what cyberpunk is, at it’s core.

Cyberpunk is a genre of science fiction set in an immanently near-future, hyper-computerised and data-governed world, a world of obscene wealth for the minority, of powerful warring corporations juxtaposed with atomised subcultures of freelance hackers, criminals and a dispossessed underclass. It usually centres around a post-industrial culture predicated on the melding of biotechnologically-enhanced human bodies, interactive information technology and rampant corporate power. It’s the gritty, hard-edged science fiction of back alleys and overflowing rubbish dumpsters, littered with discarded computer chips and the detritus of the information society. The smokestacks with the fumes of an earlier era of industrial production have yielded to a world in economic and environmental breakdown, a world with a perpetual haze of smoke and filth where constant rain streaks the neon-lit concrete beneath a landscape of corporate skyscrapers, dilapidated tenement blocks and abandoned industrial factories. A fractured world of late stage monopoly capitalism.



At the core of cyberpunk is a hard-edged dystopian realism, an aesthetic that can be seen in its depiction of the collapse of technological, post-industrial utopias. It was a reaction against the antiseptic, relentlessly sanitised vision of much earlier classical science fiction and presents a postmodern backlash against the utopian SF of previous generations, when authors like Isaac Asimov and Hal Clement wrote stories embedded with the modernist confidence that scientific humanism would exert a degree of moral and ethical control over technology. Cyberpunk’s representation of technology marks a sharp departure from that early science fiction, with a distinct nihilism and diminished sense of optimism in technology.

Many stories are particularly focussed on the breakthrough in biotechnologies and the interfaces of humans and computer technologies through cybernetic limbs, implanted circuitry and genetic alterations. Cyberpunk’s most common emblems are the implants that allow people to directly ‘jack in’ to computer networks, or to plug in modules that give them access to additional memory, skills or even personalities. In stark contrast to earlier science fiction, technology is visceral in the cyberpunk aesthetic; “it’s pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside of us, but next to us. Under our skin, often inside our minds”, according to Bruce Stirling, one of the very earliest trailblazers of the genre. One of the archetypal characters that represent this invasive melding of biotechnology and computer implants with human bodies is Johnny Mnemonic, a freelance ‘data courier’ who undergoes cybernetic surgery to implant a data storage system in his head. The system allows him to store digital data too sensitive to risk transmission on computer networks and Johnny makes a modest living physically transporting sensitive information for corporations, underworld crime rings and wealthy individuals.



The authors of cyberpunk have been fascinated by the image of a decrepit post-industrial world governed by huge multinationals and inhabited by rampant subcultures and its themes of urban disintegration are recognisably and painstakingly drawn from the condition of contemporary society, with the intensely visceral prose of William Gibson and other cyberpunk authors capturing the images of uncontrolled urban sprawl and environmental decay. The classic opening line of Gibson’s novel Neuromancer embodies the cyberpunk aesthetic: “The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel” and Gibson’s post-industrial landscapes are permeated by physical refuse and ecological decay. Tokyo Bay is a “black expanse where gulls wheel above drifting shoals of white styrofoam”, urban areas in the United States and Japan coalesce into massive ‘sprawls’, pouring rains and fog-blanketed, trash-strewn alleyways, where punk subcultures and data scavengers roam endlessly amidst the seedy, decaying streets.



Cyberpunk is really the first genre of science fiction to grapple with the emerging capability of technology and computer networks to act both as levers of authoritarian control, but also as vehicles that can open up space for social, political and cultural resistance. That’s the dichotomy at the heart of the cyberpunk genre and also, ya know, just provides a lot of really cool opportunities to tell stories about hackers pulling off major heists against giant multinational corporations and mega-rich tech barons and, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love that?



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October Reloaded: Monthly Wrap Up

Updates

Happy November bookwyrms! October is over and that means it’s time for the first of my revamped wrap up posts. Looking back, I haven’t done one of these since April (jeez) so I’m excited to dive back in. Funnily enough I didn’t actually do much reading in October cos I spent a good chunk of it playing through The Last Of Us games, which was an unforgettably phenomenal experience. If you’re unfamiliar with these games they’re the absolute pinnacle of character-driven storytelling in video games, just viscerally emotional and like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested setting too, which made it a great horror season playthrough. In other news, I also tried my first ever pumpkin spice latte (can confirm I’m now addicted to their syrupy goodness) and went for lots of nice walks along the river and the old colliery near where I live, which has now been converted into a scenic park complete with ducks, swans and a lake.



I read two books in October; The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall and The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark. The former was an absolute delight, a queer af Sherlock Holmes reimagining in a chaotic Lovecraftian multiverse that was so unapologetically fun but also incredibly well-written. I loved it so much and will def be doing a full review at some point to sing its praises from the rooftops. The second book didn’t impress me though, it was just ill-conceived and badly-written with largely forgettable characters. I did review it here but the less said about it going forward the better.

I did post a bunch of fun stuff on the blog though, including reviews of Stephen Graham Jones’ new revenge horror The Only Good Indians and Deck Matthews’ epic fantasy novella The First Of Shadows (I also had the honour of interviewing Deck too, so make sure to have a peek at that – links to all this good stuff at the end of the post). I also officially started my project to read the entirety of Stephen King’s back catalogue with mini reviews for Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining.

And now that spooky season is coming to an end we’ve got SciFi Month to look forward to! Look out for my announcement post later today where I’ll be talking about my plans for all things cyberpunk!



REVIEWS:
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Carrie, ‘Salems Lot & The Shining by Stephen King
The First Of Shadows by Deck Matthews
The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark

INTERVIEWS:
Deck Matthews, author of The Riven Realm series and The Varkas Chronicles series


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